Sanliurfa ( Urfa ) : Eleven Minutes Past Seven

Sanliurfa Travel Blog

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Traditional 'bee hive' homes of Harran.

03.11am  Drums awaken me.  Drums before dawn.  Such drumming!  ‘BATTA-BATTA-BATTA-BANG-BADDA-BANG-BANG-BANG!!!’  One would have thought they were announcing the imminent End of Days.  But no.  We’re six days into Ramadan now and this is the crash and thunder of one of the many town drummers who are paid to bash their way through the streets ahead of first prayer.  Waking the faithful for their morning feed.

03.16  KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!  ’Stephen!  Breakfas‘!’  Farida’s voice calls me back from slumber.  I stand blind and fumble into my clothes.  Stagger next door to Aziz and Farida’s room.  Laid out on the floor, a humble breakfast.

  ‘Sahur‘ they call this pre-dawn repast.  Broken bread.  Cups of milk.  Apricot jam.  Home made.  Tomato slices.  And egg scrambled up with sweet, mashed dates.  It’s nice.  You should try it sometime.  ’Farida, why you eat so little?’ I enquire.  A plate of bread hunks mixed with milk (hedgehog food?) set before her only.  Nothing more to pass her lips until eleven minutes past seven this evening.  ’My stomach bad bad.  Oooh very bad bad.  Little little food.  In night take one pill.  Now take water. ‘nother pill.’ she grimaces.  Aziz laughs and smiles.  ’Yes, today Ramazan you.  You be good Muslim boy, Inshallah!’.  He shakes my hand.  He sings a Kurdish song.
Harran Home Window.

03.39  Stagger back to bed. 

04.01  Failing completely to regain sleep.  A busy mind.  Body thrown by the concept of food so early.  In Urfa ( Sanliurfa to give it’s full name)  I have been staying with adorable Kurdish husband and wife Aziz and Farida.  Comfortable and happy here.  Inspired by the patient but also fevered clock watching that occurs every evening before the Muezzin’s permission to break fast, drink and eat I have decided to observe Ramadan for one day.  This is what children do each year.  Just one day.  A heathen and a novice (and now a ‘spiritual tourist’), I consider myself a child in such matters and am curious to give it a go.  Prayer times change about a minute or two every day and today nothing is to pass my lips (I hope) - except oxygen and words - until eleven minutes past seven tonight.

Greg tries to banter his way out of conversation with the 'tourist geed' kids :)

Other Times :  Arrived in Urfa two days ago accompanied by new friend Grzegorz.  An intelligent, affable, well travelled Pole who mercifully permit’s the nickname ‘Greg’.  A pension/hotel owner is onto us, guestbook comments in hand before we’ve even stepped from the bus.  Usually such an approach is anathema to travellers but there’s something about this guy I kinda dig.  ’Where you go after Urfa?’  ’Well, Mardin, Silopi and then maybe Iraqi Kurdistan.’  ’Oh! Ha ha.  I am Kurdish!  Welcome.  You come my guesthouse.  Iz very nice.’  Sure.  Why not.

04.11am ‘ALLAAAAAAAH UUUU AKBAR!’ rolls from one then two and then another and another minaret.

Holy Carp (which is a title that could have been the victim of a humorous typo error! ;)
  Imsak.  The first call to prayer.  I love the haunting sounds created by the lack of synchronicity between mosques at such times.

05.30  The dawn chorus is now playing to let me know what I already know, that morning has broken.  Like the first morning.  My first morning of Ramadan.

08.00  It’s actually eight o’clock on the dot I next look at my watch.  Hmm.  A watch.  An article I do not like.  An article I did not wear for 13 years or more.  Still do not wear.  Although an item occasionally necessary whilst travelling.  To be worn and frequently referred to today.  Eleven hours and eleven minutes to go.  It’s gonna be a long day.  And I’m kinda thirsty already. 

Other Times :  Greg’s only got one night here so I join him on a half day trip 44kms south to the time-frozen village of Harran.

My wonderful 'Kurdish Mom' Farida :)
  Apparently ’one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots on Earth’ according to LP.  Abraham once stayed here nearly 4,000 years ago.  Just 5kms from the Syrian border.  It’s hot down here.  Damn hot.  I’m thirsty.  I drink.  This place is arid.  Wide nascent-desert scrubland all about.  The feel of a Biblical Wild West ghost town.  It’s archaeological skeleton of towers, mosques and half collapsed castle strain out of the rubble and dust.  Old bones baking in the sun.  I’m hot.  I’m thirsty. I drink. 

Greg and I pass on the one man ’Harran Tourist information’ guide operation.  We don’t have long.  I’m thirsty.  We undertake a rough circuit of the village contained within the remainder of the  bounds of the old citadel walls.  The most engaging sight in Harran is that of the traditional ’Bee Hive’ homes.

The saddle yolk, inverted looks ike a 'Y' symbol and is tatooed on Farida's chin as a sign of her nomad origins
  Conical brick roofs to encourage coolness within.  The present examples between 100 - 200 years old.  Not actually anything to do with ancient agricultural bee-keeping industry I was disappointed to find out.  I’m so thirsty.  I don’t care.  I’m really struggling with the heat.  Outta water.  Water.  How much we depend on water to survive!  For life. 

The local kids are on to us.  Small trinkets in hand.  ’Mista Mista tourista geed, tourista geed!’  ’Don’t need geed thank you.’  ’Speak Turkish Arabish Eeenglish…’  ‘No geed thanks.‘  ’Mista Mista one Lira one Lira’ Jamelia implores.

The pretty 'fish lake' in Urfa
  ’One Lira one Lira’ Greg and I ignore.  Can’t focus anyway.  I’m thirsty.  Fuggy headed.  Dizzyish.  I’m thirsty.  Did I tell you that already?  Staggering back to get our return bus.  ‘Su?’  [Water].  Damn.  Kurdish.  ’Af?!’  [Water].  ’Yes’.  I’m saved.  Nearly had a serious dehydration collapse there.  My body also struggles, queasy, with the sudden cold onslaught of H2O.

08.34am  Water denial.  First challenge is to avoid lifelong instinctive actions.  Reaching for my bedside bottle of water as I get up.  Brushing one’s teeth.  Temptation to suck in water whilst washing face.  ‘Good morning’ greets Farida from her floor mattress where she’s watching TV feeling a touch better.

  No more pills now.  Well, medication is permitted, but not with water.  A couple of chapters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Today will necessarily be a day of limited activity. 

09.13  Aziz returns from the otogar (bus station) successful today in fishing Kiwi couple Campbell and Emma from the inbound buses.  Introductions over Aziz breaks out the ’tavli’ (Backgammon) board.  I inflict a 3-1 drubbing.  Farida steps in next.  I go 3-0 up but she scraps back to a 3-3 draw.

10.05  I commence the tedium of hand washing my clothes.
10.53  Hand washing done.  ’Thank f**k!’.  Yeah, I’m slow.  Next.  The needle and thread the boys in the bazaar laughed at me for purchasing yesterday because, of course (here),  sewing is a woman’s work.

Boating on 'fish lake' in Urfa
  I set about stitching some holes in my shoe fabric.  A day for domesticity.

11.41  Shoes done.  The first definite rumble of my tum.  I don’t expect food restraint to be a problem at all.  I’m a modest eater on The Road at best.  But water.  That’s another thing.  I remember Harran.
12.20pm  ’ALLAAAAH U AKBAR!’  Ögle.  Prayer number two.  The next one marks freedom!         

Other Times :  Aziz and Farida are about the nicest ’locals’ I meet in my time in Turkey.  Members of a small nomadic community who’s last remaining numbers - their families - still live out traditional lives of largely subsistence agriculture around the slopes of Mount Caraca, near Siverek.

Mosque courtyard
  Halfway North East between Urfa and Diyarbakir.  ‘Ibrahim pasa [Abraham] my grandfather.’ Aziz proudly declares.  Presumably meaning he’s a descendent there from.  ’Originally from Syria my people.  Or between Tigris… Euphrates river.  We call Mesopotamia.’

Aziz and Farida grew up as neighbours and married when they were about 19 and 14 respectively.  They have 7 children and 30 grandchildren now.  The second youngest, Diyar, helps around the guesthouse whilst I stay.  His t-shirt throughout proclaims ’Maybe I speed have played os tandem colours instead.’  :) They moved from nomadic life to Urfa 25 years ago.  ’Used to live in the villages’ Farida explains ’but many many bomb bomb.

  Very bad.  Everybody move to cities.  Army come.  Bomb bomb.  Bad people.’  ’Now nomad life is gone.  Small small group in mountain.’ Aziz cups his hand to illustrate the nomadic way of life shrunk to the size of conker.  ’No more.  But I remember.  Even fifty years ago.  Black tents everywhere’ he says, referring to the traditional black goat-hair tents traditional to yörük (nomad) tribes.  ’Now they use cars and lorries to move around.  But before I remember horses and camels.  Always.’  Like the one he had to mount, ride and lassoo Farida from in the mock kidnapping part of their yörük wedding ceremony all those years ago.
Three ladies of Urfa in the traditionally Kurdish purple head scarves

’Your tattoos Farida.  What do they mean?’  ’This’ she points to the ‘lashed eye’ mark on her forehead ’is the sun.  This is nomad life’ she says pointing to an inverted ’Y’ on her chin.  She points to the wall where a curved wooden camel saddle crook hangs.  The sign of the nomad.  ’These’ she indicates small crosses and circles on her hands and arms ’ I not know.  I did these.  Was young.  No remember.  No more.  No more.  No more the girls tattoos.  Never.’  It’s true.  The tattoos have ended with Farida’s generation of Kurds.  No more marks of identity.

'Little Ablutions' 1
  No more nomads.  ‘Do you mind if I take your photograph?’  ‘Yes, iz fine.  We are a democracy. Ha ha.’  I see.

13.22pm I awake from a brief doze on the family’s cushioned bench.  The ceiling of grape vines above me.
13.43 to 14.00  Spend yet more time (weeks so far) internally debating a proposed trip to Iraqi Kurdistan or not.
14.04  Nah.  Going off the idea finally.  Little thirsty.  But not too bad.
16.11  Struggling to write anything vaguely interesting about Ephesus when the next call to prayer reverberates around the city.


Mosque window grills
23  Time to do something.  Been sat on my butt all day.  Ya don’t wanna move too much in 35 degrees with no water.  But a whole day of inertia would be a bit of a cop out right?  Farida’s been to the bazaar and back and Aziz has been odd-jobbing and popping to the otogar and back all day.  I decide on one last walk around the city.

Other Times :  I love my forays into Urfa.  At first glance it does little to enchant.  But it has a quiet grace.  A genuine spiritual feel to it that warms you.  A pious town owing to its religious heritage.  The predominantly Kurdish women (and often men) moving around in their traditional purple silk, white-cotton embroidered head scarves.  Urfa possesses by far the most expansive, exciting and vibrant bazaar area in the whole of the Turkey that I will experience.

Palm tree climber :)
  A labyrinth of haberdasheries, metal workers, wood workers, sweet sellers, shoe sellers, fruit and spice and nuts and belts and bags and… you get the idea.

The citadel with its twin standing columns and great views.  Some serenely composed mosques and their courtyards.  The small revered Mevlidi Halil Camii housing Abraham’s supposed birthplace.  A couple of other sites around relating to the Prophet.  Undertaking his duties to convert pagans in the area, for his troubles Abraham was immolated on a funeral pyre by the local Assyrian king Nimrod.  But God turned the fires into water and the hot coals into fish (or so the story goes).  Abraham was then instead cast to his doom from the citadel hill but landed safely in a bed of roses.  Accordingly there is Balikli Göl the charming ‘fish lake’ thronging with thousands of feed-frenzied carp and a rose garden here abouts.

The two stone pillars of Urfa Citadel
  As ever.  Stories of the painful transmuted to the beautiful by way of the absurd.  ‘G*d I love Religion!’

18.22pm  ’The Angel’ Gabriel speaks and places his hand upon my shoulder.  Sh*t.  I was heading home.  Gabriel (dubbed ‘The Angel‘ by yours truly), a nice enough local guy.  Does ‘tour geed’ stuff but just likes to talk to practice his English.  Chatted a while yesterday.  He’s found me again.  I’m thirsty.  Getting a little ratty.  Just want dinner now.  A drink.  Not conversation.  Conversation starts okay enough but he soon veers onto religion.  A favourite subject of his.  His English is poor though and he is just babbling and babbling and babbling ’and if he is a bad man then he is a bad man but if a good man then he goes bad man then if there is a poor man outside the house of the bad man and he wants food then he is a good man the bad man but if he is bad man then… you understand me?’  No I f**king don’t and I don’t f**king care!  Not now!  I’m thirsty!  ’Yeah, sort of’ I lie like a fool knowing this will only garner more expansive attempts to make his point (if he actually has one which I doubt even if he could communicate it clearly in his own tongue and I’m thirsty and ratty and I don’t care!)  ’But anyway, so the bad man he is a bad man but a good man…’  Oh Christ please what is this guy drivelling on about?!  I’m thirsty.

Boys at the fountain
  Tetchy as heck.  His words mingle with the heat, the dust, the petrol fumes and my irritation.  Ramadan’s getting to me now.  Why deny yourselves water?  Life?  For even one day?  Life?  Why?  This isn’t reverence.  Spiritual Worth.  This is madness.  This is masochism en mass.  I don’t get it. I… I… I… I’m thirsty.  Distracted.  Can’t rationalise.  Is there anything to rationalise?  I’m sorry I… I… I don’t mean to be disrespectful… am I being rude?… I…I.. ’BUT if the good man, he is a bad man and also has religion a bad man is a good man in his house…’ ‘The Angel’ launches again.  Too much!!  I force an exit as politely as I can.  Only 49 minutes to go.  But I’m cracking now.
Urfa Bazaar Life
  Can you tell?

18.49  Back home.  Diyar’s laying the table.  ’How are you?’ enquire Campbell and Ems.  ’Thirsty!’  ’Oh thirsty.  You hungry?’  asks Aziz.  ’Yes.  Hungry.  But more thirsty than hungry.’  My conversation’s getting more clipped and monosyllabic the thirstier I get.  My mouths frothy and dry.  Gacky and gooey from lack of moisture.  My p*ss is the unhealthy colour of polished brass.  Hydration issues ( ‘A happy mountaineer always pees clear’ I recall Nepal).  Conversation now pierces the impatience born of my arid peace of mind like hot needles.  ’So have you travelled to countries outside of Turkey Aziz?’ Campbell asks.

'The Colour Purple'
  ’Yes Yes!  I have been to Marsin, Nemrut, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Marsin…’ ALL OF WHICH ARE IN FRICKIN’ TURKEY YOU FRICKIN’ IDIOT DIDN’T YOU FRICKIN’ HEAR HIM AND I WOULDN'T MIND REALLY WOULDN'T BUT I ASKED EXACTLY THE SAME FRICKIN’ QUESTION YESTERDAY AND YOU GAVE EXACTLY THE SAME FRICKIN’ WRONG ANSWER YOU FRICKIN’ IDIOT …AND YOU SAID FRICKIN’ ’MARSIN’ TWICE!!  OTHER COUNTRIES O-TH-ER COUNTRIES!!!  Something; some demon raised in the fires of thirst and fatigue inside me screams in my head.  Oh my Lord!  What’s come over me?!  I need a drink.  With only minutes to go, unexpectedly I find deprived of water now for nearly 16 hours I am flipping out.  Going round the bend.           


Urfa by night
54  Diyar is setting out Farida’s traditional Kurdish feast on the table.  A different, delicious three course extravaganza each night.  Today soup.  Kazan kebaps.  Water melon.  Bread.  Glasses are filled with cool, clear, refreshing looking water.  Is this part of the process?  The torture?  To lay everything your body’s yearning for before you 17 minutes ahead of time!  Water water water!

19.06  A flick of his wrist.  His watch.  ‘Five minutes now’ says Aziz sagely.  Mine indicates nine.  I hope my watch is slow.
19.08  ‘Iz okay, eat eat!’  Aziz implores Campbell and Ems.

Farida lovingly prepares 'Ifta' the evening meal that breaks fast during Ramadan.
  ‘Nah it’s okay ya know… w-we c-can… err, not before you guys ay.’

19.11pm  Eleven minutes past seven.  AT LAST!  YES!  My watch was four minutes slow.  It’s ridiculous how much this matters by the time the muezzin sets us free.  It’s time to break our fast.  ‘Ifta‘.  Aziz and I reverently lift our glasses of water.  I recall his words of a previous day ‘I drink slowly.  The Prophet Mohammed, he says take three drinks not one.’  Meaning three respectful sips.  No gulping as you break your fast.  Definitely the best tasting water I’ve had in a long time!  Relief.  I made it.  The body was fine.  But the mind?  Hmmm.

The main man, Aziz :)
  I’m probably exaggerating my ’sufferings’ a little in retrospect.  But not much.  That’s writing for ya. 

‘Spars!‘ [ Thank you ] I shout into Farida in the kitchen, where she sits alone.  The isolated woman in line with Islamic decorum, despite having prepared our meal.  My Ramadan is over.  Aziz is happy although I pass on friendly invitations to convert more lastingly to Islam.  Not my bag baby.  Not my bag.  I finish my time in Urfa with a devastating Backgammon flourish, whuppin’ both husband and wife.  A disrespectful little heathen after all ;) 

Thank you Aziz and Farida for such a wonderful experience :)

Vikram says:
OMG you're STILL travelling?? Please... sell me your life. Or if you're scared I won't pay you, put your life up for eBay and I'll buy it there, secure payment and all. You do take Paypal, don'cha? ;-)
Posted on: Sep 14, 2009
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Traditional bee hive homes of Ha…
Traditional 'bee hive' homes of H…
Harran Home Window.
Harran Home Window.
Greg tries to banter his way out o…
Greg tries to banter his way out …
Holy Carp (which is a title that c…
Holy Carp (which is a title that …
My wonderful Kurdish Mom Farida …
My wonderful 'Kurdish Mom' Farida…
The saddle yolk, inverted looks ik…
The saddle yolk, inverted looks i…
The pretty fish lake in Urfa
The pretty 'fish lake' in Urfa
Boating on fish lake in Urfa
Boating on 'fish lake' in Urfa
Mosque courtyard
Mosque courtyard
Three ladies of Urfa in the tradit…
Three ladies of Urfa in the tradi…
Little Ablutions 1
'Little Ablutions' 1
Mosque window grills
Mosque window grills
Palm tree climber :)
Palm tree climber :)
The two stone pillars of Urfa Cita…
The two stone pillars of Urfa Cit…
Boys at the fountain
Boys at the fountain
Urfa Bazaar Life
Urfa Bazaar Life
The Colour Purple
'The Colour Purple'
Urfa by night
Urfa by night
Farida lovingly prepares Ifta th…
Farida lovingly prepares 'Ifta' t…
The main man, Aziz :)
The main man, Aziz :)
Bee Hive homes, these ones renov…
'Bee Hive' homes, these ones reno…
Some ancient ruins in the Biblical…
Some ancient ruins in the Biblica…
Little Ablutions 2
'Little Ablutions' 2
Haggling in the bazaar
Haggling in the bazaar
Greg unleashes his devestating new…
Greg unleashes his devestating ne…
Inside a covered area of Urfas wo…
Inside a covered area of Urfa's w…
Bazaar Roof
'Bazaar Roof'
Fresh baked bread Yum!
Fresh baked bread "Yum!"
Our City
'Our City'
Tunnel down form the Citadel.
Tunnel down form the Citadel.
Fish feeding
Fish feeding
Getting the restaurant ready
Getting the restaurant ready
Looking in at pigeon coops
Looking in at pigeon coops
Vrooooooom! :)
'Vrooooooom!' :)
Holy Carp 2
Holy Carp 2
Ifta my long wait is nearly over…
'Ifta' my long wait is nearly ove…
Stevie getting whupped by Campbell…
Stevie getting whupped by Campbel…
Farida with grandchild number 29 o…
Farida with grandchild number 29 …
Sanliurfa Hostels review
A unique introduction to Kurdish family and life at Lizbon Guest House.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to stay at the Lizbon Guest House (Hotel Lizbon Konuk Evi Guest House to give its full name) with i… read entire review
photo by: Deats